This report presented findings from an evaluation of Part 3 of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015. The report focused on addressing four key questions (listed in Section One) to understand the impact of Part 3 of the Act and the ways in which it has been implemented by public service authorities and used at local level. Specifically, the report reported on activity and trends (Section Four); outlined processes associated with the implementation of participation requests (Section Five); detailed findings related to intermediate outcomes of Part 3 of the Act (Section Six); and outlined evidence pertaining to longer-term outcomes of Part 3 of the Act (Section Seven).
Overall, the evaluation found that Part 3 of the Act is largely being implemented as intended in the legislation and the Scottish Government Guidance on participation requests (2017). Further action is required to support public service authorities and community participation bodies to maximise the potential of participation requests to generate the intended intermediate and longer-term outcomes, particularly where public service authorities have interpreted participation requests as indicative of the failure of alternative or pre-existing participatory mechanisms. Specifically, action is required to promote participation requests and the range of public service authorities covered by the Act, enable a culture change, and ensure that the policy intent and the objectives of an outcome improvement process are made clear to all key stakeholders. The evaluation also highlighted that as part of this work consideration should be given to an appeals process. Given the significant challenges to introducing an appeals process and in ensuring its fairness and robustness, alongside the very small numbers of participation requests completed using the legislation, this is likely to be a longer-term piece of work.
Across all groups and based on the available data, uptake and use of the Act increased between 2017-2018 and 2018-2019, with the majority of participation requests originating from community councils. Local authorities received the largest share of participation requests across the same periods. In terms of equality issues, the evaluation highlighted that steps should be taken to enhance the promotion of the Act amongst disadvantaged communities to encourage them to use participation requests to support needed changes within their communities. At present, annual public service authority reporting makes minimal reference to disadvantaged or marginalised groups. Public service authorities should provide improved and proactive support for community participation bodies, while awareness and intent of participation requests should be disseminated to wider groups, considering a range of methods.
There are some indications that participation requests can improve community-public service authority engagement, facilitate understanding and establish trust, although these findings are not consistent across the sample. Public service authority culture and resistance represent a considerable barrier where these outcomes have not been achieved. There are some early indications that participation requests may contribute to improved services that better meet local needs. However, the potential of this will be better understood over a longer period of time.
Given the recent enactment of Part 3 of the Act, assessing longer-term outcomes (increased community empowerment, improved public services and reduced inequalities of outcome) is problematic. That being said, early findings – and the best practice case in particular – suggest that participation requests can help to enable participation, establish shared understandings and build improved communication between public service authorities and communities. Participation requests represent a means by which communities can have more influence in local decision-making. If participation requests are used effectively, communities will be able to generate a desired change, potentially encouraging them to remain involved in pursuit of positive outcomes at the local level.